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Putin Was Here? The 2016 Presidential Election

19/12/2016 12:56 GMT | Updated 19/12/2016 12:57 GMT
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Back in September of 1993, after working on the very successful Clinton-Gore Campaign in New York City, I moved to Washington to take a position at the Democratic National Committee (the "DNC").

My role was to head up a DNC sponsored surrogate speakers program in support of Bill & Hillary Clinton's "Healthcare That's Always There" initiative...a somewhat successful precursor of today's "Obama Care."

After taking my seat at my desk in a large room with several others who were also working on this project, I noticed an olive drab Steel Master filing cabinet close by with a note posted on one of its pull-out drawers. It read "NIXON WAS HERE."

This filing cabinet was saved as a reminder of one of the darkest events in U.S. political history - the Watergate Break-In and the subsequent cover up by the campaign to re-elect President Nixon, Nixon's closest advisors and the actual involvement of President Nixon himself in this affair - which led to his resignation on August 8,1974.

So, image my surprise to see my friendly old filing cabinet's picture on the front page of the New York Times accompanying a major investigative piece on the Russian hacking of the 2016 Presidential Election...and the DNC.

The Watergate Break-In and it's cover up was a bold old school attempt to influence the 1972 Presidential Election.

What looked like a routine burglary was just the tip of an iceberg-seized scheme to influence the outcome of a presidential election that Nixon would have likely won without any of this skulduggery. Consequently, these "dirty tricks" landed many of Nixon's closest aides including his Attorney General in prison for using the tools of government to obstruct an investigation.

For those who may be to young to remember, "Watergate" is the reason that Congress passed laws in an attempt to reform the political process and restore faith in elected officials.

Among those laws were the 1974 Campaign Finance Law, the 1974 amendment to the Federal Election Act which established the Federal Election Commission and the 1978 Ethics in Government Law.

At the heart of these laws were limitations on the amount of money individuals could give to a candidate, disclosure requirements and other attempts to curb potential corruption of public officials aimed at preventing them from profiting from their government service.

The most prominent provision of the Ethics in Government Act was the Independent Counsel Act, which created the special prosecutor position that could be used by Congress or the Attorney General to investigate wrongdoing by some 50 senior members of the executive branch.

Many years later, after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizen's United case in 2010, which many argue completely eliminated many of these protections and relaxed these limitations for corporations, labor unions etc., the Supreme Court in 2012 refused to extend the reasoning of Citizen's United to foreign nationals. Other than those who are lawful permanent residents - foreign nationals are completely banned from donating to candidates in federal, state or local elections.

So, here we are 44 years after Watergate where questions are being raised about another election and whether "high tech dirty tricks" were used by a foreign power in an effort to influence the outcome of this 2016 Presidential Election.

Unfortunately, both the lack of sophistication of our present voting system and our ability to protect it might just be too antiquated to be effective against some bad Kremlin actors with high tech dirty tricks up their sleeves or if you prefer "pelisse."

In a nation as closely divided as ours where more and more of our elections seem to be decided on razor thin margins, it may be long past the time to reconsider: how we run our campaigns, how we protect our political process, and what steps we need to take to preserve the integrity of our voting process.

This "democratic experiment" designed by our Founding Fathers, although inspired and inspiring, was not without flaws. It was clearly pretty darn good since it has withstood the test of time with only 27 amendments to its Constitution.

However, it may no longer be reasonable to depend on the resources and the officials in 50 individual states to figure out the best way to protect and preserve the ability of its citizens to vote for the leader of their country in this present day world of sophisticated of cyber crime.

The vulnerabilities of our voting system which were previously exposed in the battle over the 2000 Presidential Election outcome should have been the warning that it was time then for real reform...This was not the case, and now we are suffering the consequences.

Irrespective of who has won the 2016 Presidential Election, all Americans should care about the integrity of our political process and the guaranteed, protected and secure way we all must cast our votes for the candidates we have selected.

At the moment this should not be about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump but about understanding what has happened. Not only how these alleged crimes have occurred but why they occurred, who committed them and what were their motives?

In America we tolerate quite a lot of nasty campaign rhetoric in the name of "free speech" but we should not tolerate foreign interference or criminal activity in our political process.

So, based on what information has been revealed, at this point it seems likely that the highest levels of the Russian Government may have been involved in electronically "breaking into the cyber filing cabinet of the DNC" and then releasing this stolen information in a manner timed to damage the Clinton Campaign and aid the Trump Campaign at a critical juncture when there was little or no time to recover.

What also seems clear is that the Obama Administration along with the Leaders in Congress knew about this some time ago and chose, for a variety of reasons, not to bring it to the attention of the America people before they cast their vote. These "powers that be" chose not to go public with an investigation which could have produced results before Election Day on November 8.

At a minimum it seems the American people were left out of this equation and should have been told at that time. They clearly deserved to know then and must demand to know now!

There are many obvious ways that Russia might want to influence current U.S. policy and by having a Putin-friendly President Trump these former Soviets hardliners may think they have found their guy.

Equally concerning is the disputed fact that these same criminal hackers may have hacked into the RNC and obtained damaging information on the Trump Campaign or Trump personally that they have yet to release. This information could be released later or threatened to be released later to damage, embarrass or influence the decisions of President Trump. This Russian term of art is called "Kompromat."

So it seems now that on or before Inauguration Day, January 20 the Obama Administration expects to have the results of its own investigation on the "Russian hacking".

Will this be the parting gift our present POTUS Obama leaves on the Oval Office Desk for incoming POTUS Donald Trump?

And what will the Trump Administration do with this "gift"? Will they follow up on the results of this investigation or simply hope it all goes away?

We can only imagine what "Rootin Tootin Putin" hopes for as he sits back in his Kremlin Palace armchair...taking in all the Inaugural festivities on RT, just hoping he has installed another one of his "Putintates."

As Americans we all want to have faith in our democratic system of government and its free and fair election process.

And there are many who believe that once behind that Oval Office Desk our next president will rise to accept, along with the awesome power of the Presidency, its awesome responsibilities as well.

And if President Trump does not take up this challenge in his first hundred days...will Congress, the Press and the American people take it up to him? Which is exactly what we do here in our American Democracy.

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